Nearly forty years ago, at a time of my life when I still sported a fine head of hair, I had a girlfriend called Jo. She didn’t drink, smoke, take drugs and yet was one of the happiest, funniest people I knew. She certainly never went unnoticed at parties. She was in many ways almost the polar opposite to me at that time, as I relied almost entirely on the consumption of chemicals and other “stuff” to make me feel “happy”. Once in the spring as she was storing her winter clothing I saw her put money into the pockets of a winter coat. I was curious as to why did she do that. She explained that it was a gift to her future self; that she imagined what a pleasant surprise it would be to find that money when she least expected it. When she spoke of herself in the future she talked of herself in the third person.
I thought about this the other day as I was writing about self-compassion; how perception and thus her approach to happiness were radically different to my own. At first I thought her actions seemed girly and silly. Later, her actions and the attitude that brought about those actions intrigued me.
It took me some time to see the lesson and even longer to apply it.
Many of us already know that we should be kinder and more generous, more forgiving with ourselves, but it can seem difficult or impossible to act that way. We have to overcome the feeling that we don’t deserve that kindness and consideration. We feel in our gut that unless we are harsh with ourselves everything will collapse. We can find ourselves in a negative loop, revisiting all the stupid things we did. When we perceive ourselves in this barbarous way, quite understandably it makes us feel like shit. When we are so harsh to ourselves, we don’t really feel like taking care of ourselves. Why would we? Why would we bother to floss our teeth, make our bed or polish our shoes? Why would we bother to take good care of ourselves. If it is hard for you to be kind to yourself in such moments, then how about the “you” in a week’s time, a month, a year? What if you, like Jo, could regard your future self as a worthy future visitor in your life, worthy of kindness and compassion. What if, like Jo, you could come up with nice gifts for “him/her” (future me) – things to make him/her feel welcome and cared for when he/she arrives?
It can be as small a gesture as flossing your teeth, polishing your shoes, or as big a gesture as stopping smoking or alcohol or simply finally walking out of a toxic relationship because you don’t want your future self to suffer as much as your present self is.
If you can’t do a nice thing for you, could you possibly do a nice thing for him/her? That fascinating yet blameless stranger will someday have to live in the world you’re creating for him/her today. In other words, you’re the one making the bed, but he/she’s the one who’ll be lying in it. So be nice to him/her today. Be nice to him/her every day.
Remember you are the very best friend he/she has. Take care of him/her.